“So they all ate and were filled.
And they took up twelve baskets
full of the fragments that remained.”
The entire validity of Christianity is based on the historical truth of this one statement. The centrality of the Christian world view finds its foundation in the meaning of what historically took place on this occasion when Jesus of Nazareth fed 5,000 men, plus women and children, in a wilderness somewhere in Galilee. The importance of this historical event is so central to the truth of the existence of God, and the claim that Jesus is the Son of God, that this is the only miraculous event of Jesus that is mentioned by all four historians of Jesus’ ministry (See Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:30-44; Lk 9:10-17; Jn 6:1-14). We could certainly conclude that if one does not believe in the twelve baskets full of leftovers, then he or she does not have the faith that is pleasing to God (Hb 11:6). The baskets were indeed full, but if one does not believe this, then his faith is empty.
The purpose for which the apostle John wrote his history of Jesus emphasizes the importance of this event in reference to who Jesus of Nazareth really was. In his document to explain to disciples of Jesus who lived many years after this event, John recorded seven specific miraculous wonders of Jesus for the purpose that the followers of Jesus believe that He “is the Christ, the Son of God” (Jn 20:31). Both Jesus and John wanted to take the disciples far beyond simply being disciples of Him as a religious leader. John wanted us to understand that Jesus was not only the Messiah (Christ), but also the Son of God. Throughout His ministry, Jesus had claimed, “I came down from heaven” (Jn 6:38). He also claimed, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). And even more definitive, Jesus claimed, “I and My Father are one” (Jn 10:30). The twelve baskets full of leftover fish and bread after the feeding of approximately ten thousand people validates all these claims.
We are not shallow in our understanding of what actually took place on that surreal occasion when Jesus stood among His disciples and the multitudes who had followed Him into the wilderness. Counting men, women and children, there could have been as many as ten thousand people in the multitude. The number was incredible, which makes Jesus’ statement somewhat ridiculous when He said to His disciples, “You give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16). The statement sounded ridiculous to the disciples at the time because His immediate disciples still had no idea who He really was. To them, He was a great religious leader to whom they would give their loyalty. But they did not realize that an incarnation of God stood in their midst.
But Jesus was leading His immediate disciples into a reality that their loyalty to Him must be far greater than following Him as a great religious leader. There have been great religious leaders as Confucius, Muhammad and Buddha who have led millions of people throughout the centuries. However, Jesus was more. The fact that He is more is proved by two fish and five loaves of bread that ended up being twelve baskets of leftovers.
Therefore, consider what actually took place on that day in the wilderness that was so surreal that the disciples had a difficult time comprehending what had actually transpired. On the occasion, there was one young boy who evidently had some forethought. He had with him “five barley loaves and two small fish” (Jn 6:9). We wonder why this young boy had in his possessions these five loaves of bread and two fish? Could it have been that it was now time for Jesus to set up the scenario to reveal to everyone that He was more than a religious leader?
We must preface what actually took place with John’s revelation of John 4:24: “God is spirit.” And then in the beginning of John’s document on Jesus of Nazareth being more than a carpenter from Galilee, John revealed some realities that would have actually been quite inconceivable for the disciples to comprehend at the time of the feeding. We must keep in mind that the document of John was written at least thirty years after the event of the loaves and fish.
John wrote that we, as Jesus’ disciples, should conclude these many years after the event what he revealed in John 1:1: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Therefore, the Word that became flesh was initially spirit before creation because He was God (Jn 1:14). But John did not stop with an inspired dictionary of who this Jesus was whom we now follow. “All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn 1:3). This truth is overwhelming if we consider ourselves “Christians” and followers of One who was first as God in eternal spirit. So God the Holy Spirit, through the hand of Paul, was more definitive: “For by Him [the Word] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth …. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Cl 1:16).
So we go back to the bread and fish. Those fish at the time were surely dead, but they had once been living in some water. The bread had been cooked from living grain. So we start with fish and bread that had been providentially made available for an historical event that has become the center of our world view as Christians.
Throughout the great feast of compassion on that day in the wilderness (Mk 6:34), the text says that everyone ate and was filled (Mt 14:20). And then something marvelous happened, which at the time, was surely so surreal that the disciples had a difficult time processing it in their minds: “They took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained” (Mt 14:20). It takes little mathematics to figure out why this one historical event stands between one simply being a disciple of a famous person called Jesus, and one totally throwing himself down before this God in the flesh. The occasion started with five loaves of bread and two fish. But when the event was over, they ended up with twelve baskets that were completely full of leftover bread and fish. This was an event of creation! And, only God can create. Standing in the midst of those several thousand people in that wilderness place was the incarnate Creator of all things. He was the Creator of all that would sustain the life that He also created.
We are not “Christian” because Jesus pronounced some great spiritual teachings for living. Any religious leader can do that. We do not follow Jesus because He was some renown Jewish Rabbi who generated and led a spiritual movement among Jewish people in the first century. Many religious leaders have had great teachings and led great movements of humanity throughout history. But with Jesus it is different. We follow Jesus because He was the incarnate Creator who came into this world in the flesh of man (Jn 1:14). It was because He was God in the flesh that the cross of redemption means more that an accidental death from the hands of a mob.
Jesus was not a martyr. He was God in the flesh who had created those who drove nails through His incarnate flesh on a cross outside Jerusalem. If one does not believe this, then this would mean that one believes that Jesus was nothing more than a great religious sage of His time. It would mean that one follows Christ as the Muslim follows Muhammad, or a Buddhist who follows Buddha. But the fact is that Jesus was truly God on earth. Jesus thus has a right to demand our total commitment, not because of what He said, but because of who He is.
We must follow this reasoning to its limit. If this miracle of creation on the occasion of the wilderness experience did not actually happen, then we have been deceived. Our imagination of Jesus as being someone beyond this world has carried us away to believe a fable. But if there were twelve full baskets, then this was God in the flesh who was the Creator of all life on earth. The fact that He started with five and two, and ended up with that which could be counted only as baskets full of leftovers is proof that it was the Creator of all things who stood on earth in the midst of those multitudes.
Life originated at the command of God in the beginning. If one would seek an alternative to the existence of life on the earth, then that search is a denial of the God who stood in the midst of several thousand people in Galilee and created twelve baskets full of leftovers from five loaves and two fish. Those twelve baskets will always validate the fact that the One to whom we have given our lives was the actual incarnate God who originally created all things.
If one believes that life originated from another source than the One who stood among the disciples in the wilderness, then he or she is not a true believer in the Son of God. If one believes that it was only a fable that there were baskets full leftovers, then he has denied the gospel. If Jesus were not the origin of all life, then it would be foolish to believe that He can bless with eternal life those who believe on Him. If the Son of God had no power to originally create all life, then He has no power to give life.
But we believe. We believe that Jesus was God incarnate who came into this world in order to offer us eternal life. Such was the theme for the document of John: “These [miracles] are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life through His name” (Jn 20:31).
[Next in series: June 3]